DEBORAH BIRD ROSE “Convivial Activism”
November 18, 2011 1 Comment
The occupation in New York erupted at the same time that my father was dying in Seattle, and the two processes – occupation and death – will be forever linked in my mind, and embedded in a sense of family. Dad was too sick to follow the news, but we knew he would have loved it, and at the memorial service following his death some of the family members were a bit bedraggled from having spent the night in the rain with other activists in the Seattle occupation.
We had all experienced the good and the bad in the rapidly changing public culture dominated by the corporate will-to-power. Along with decent jobs, and lives that combined employment with activism, we had undergone a scary transformation: we were citizens who had become standing reserves (to use Heidegger’s term). Society (what was left of it) had become the equivalent of an industrial forest or feedlot, and our lives increasingly felt like objects to be used, squeezed, consumed, and dumped on the rubbish heap.
Taking to the streets in this wild conviviality was an affirmation of our human capacity for justice, love, spontaneity, and commitment. Lisa Peattie reminds us in her article ‘Convivial Cities’ that conviviality – the spontaneous gathering together for purposeful activities both pleasurable and instrumental – is an essential part of civil society. Indeed, it may be that this powerfully convivial activism is starting to put the civil back into the practice of society. Out on the streets, in parks and other areas that planners had set aside for public purposes, people gather to assert the right to take meaningful action in the public eye.
I continue to be struck by how inclusive so much of this action is. Serious and playful, religious and secular, old and young, women and men (and not a few dogs), this is action that claims the right to care about others, the right to be a member of a society that is not just a collection of isolated individuals. It is a commitment to social bonds and social justice. In my more optimistic moments I imagine that perhaps it is an assertion of a new kind of society arising in the ruins of neo-liberalism: a post-society social formation that is yet to come.
As the days and weeks go by, I am finding that activism is giving us hope. Here are the words of my sister Betsy Rose and a link to a YouTube report on one action she’s been involved with in San Francisco. ‘It’s feels awfully good to finally be having a real citizens’ uprising going on – hadn’t quite realized that some of the debilitating energy and discouragement was not just with the government and corporations and media (the big three), but with the American people. Are they all asleep? Is this OK with them? Are we just cowed and beaten down by consumerism, police militarism, political non-speech…’
I’ll also share a report by my brother Will Rose on a ‘Move Your Money’ action in Seattle.